Judgement or Judgment?

By Maeve Maddox

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Reader John Moss wonders about the spellings judgement and judgment. His Word application flags judgement as an incorrect spelling, but when he searches the word online,

both judgement and judgment occur with seeming equal frequency. Is one English and the other American? What a bother! If both are OK, I guess I could update my dictionary by adding the ‘judgement’ spelling – but doing so might lend assistance to spelling inconsistencies. You’re probably going to tell me this is a ‘judgment call’, but I’m still wondering why the two spellings.

Yes, I’d have to say that judgement is British spelling and judgment American, but in the early twentieth century when H. W. Fowler was writing his influential book on usage, the spelling judgment was evidently being used by a lot of British writers. According to Fowler “modern usage” favored judgment.

Nevertheless, Fowler and the OED preferred judgement:

judgement is the form sanctioned in the Revised Version of the Bible, & the OED prefers the older & more reasonable spelling. Judgement is therefore here recommended… –Fowler p. 310.

Wanting to see how Shakespeare spelled it, I looked up that line in The Merchant of Venice in which Shylock praises Portia, thinking she is ruling in his favor. I found it online at the Literature Network:

A Daniel come to judgment! yea, a Daniel!

Not wanting to rely solely on an online source, I also looked it up in the First Folio:

A Daniel come to iudgement, yea, a Daniel.

Yes, that’s a letter i.

The OED still prefers judgement, but acknowledges judgment as a variant spelling.

That venerable pronouncing dictionary by Daniel Jones covers both bases by printing the entry word as judg(e)ment.

Merriam-Webster prefers judgment and lists judgement as a variant.

The words abridgement/abridgment and acknowledgement/acknowledgment follow the same British/American dichotomy as judgement/judgment.

Fowler offers a rule and an exception to the rule for dealing with words ending with a Mute e:

RULE: When a suffix is added to a word ending in mute e, the mute e is dropped before a vowel, but not before a consonant.

EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: The e is kept even before a vowel if it is needed to preserve or emphasize the soft sound of a preceding g or c.

I suppose it’s because I’m an American, but I can’t see any reason to keep the e before a consonant if it’s not needed to soften the g.

Still, these are useful guidelines for spelling the many words that end in silent/mute e.

For example, reader Suresh was wondering about adding a suffix to the word cache:

I would like to know whether, I can use the term: “cacheing.” Example: Google is cacheing my website/page.

The word cache follows the rule and drops the e to give caching.

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53 Responses to “Judgement or Judgment?”

  • Samuel Mansfield

    In response to his comment about not seeing a reason to ever keep a mute “e” after adding a suffix, the reason is parsing the word for pronunciation. For example, if I have the word “humble,” it parses into two sections: “hum” and “ble.” Now, if I add the suffix “ness” to make the world “humbleness,” I need to keep the “e.” If I don’t, the word becomes “humblness,” and this word has four consonants without any vowels in between them. While the word is still easy to pronounce, this breaks a basic rule of the English language, and must therefore be remedied.

  • Craig Hemphill

    I’ll agree with John Clark for the reasons set forth in his 2/28/2011 post. Although I have been unable to find another source, as a lawyer I have dealt with judgments as documents representing the judgement of judges, all from the root word “judge.” Having also read British authors extensively, I am sure that my judgement has been influenced by their usage. At some point in time judgement seems to have been favored, and then someone (in USA?) decided to make a rule — after Fowler. my style model. Since I was not given a vote on the matter, I don’t feel bound by the change. Back to John Clark — there being a useful distinction between judgment for pieces of paper signed by judges reflecting their judgements, that is how I shall continue my usage.

  • Belinda

    I am 70 years old and have never left the United States and I spell it judgement. That’s how I was taught and that’s how I will keep spelling it.

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